Ambler’s Act II Explores Sports and Parenting in ROUNDING THIRD

by Ellen Wilson Dilks

Act II Playhouse launches their sixteenth season with Richard Dresser’s ode to Little League dads, ROUNDING THIRD. Directed by Matt Silva, the production runs Wednesdays thru Sundays in the company’s Butler Avenue home from September 9—October 12, 2014.

ROUNDING THIRD introduces us to two very different dads who are coaching their sons’ Little League team in contradicting styles. Don, a rough around the edges house painter, has been head coach for several seasons, and he is a no-nonsense “There’s no crying in baseball” kinda guy. He has a strict set of rules and firmly believes winning is everything. His son is the star pitcher on the team. Enter Michael, a non-athlete corporate type who is looking for something special to do with his equally unathletic son to help the boy make friends. The comedy unfolds through a series of scenes covering an entire season and one all-important playoff game. The interesting part is that the kids are never seen—but they become very real as the play progresses. Addressing their comments to the audience as substitutes for the team brings the kids alive. Though set in the world of baseball, ROUNDING THIRD is about so much more…

Michael Basile and Tony Braithwaite in a scene from ROUNDING THIRD, running at Act II Playhouse thru October 12. (Photo credit: John Flak)

Michael Basile and Tony Braithwaite in a scene from ROUNDING THIRD, running at Act II Playhouse thru October 12. (Photo credit: John Flak)

Both men have wildly different approaches to the kids and the game. Like my own son’s first coach, Michael just wants the kids to have fun while they learn the basics of the game and teamwork. He wants to nurture each one and protect them from the pressures of high-stakes competition. Don is not having it; he pushes the players, berates them for errors and fosters a “win at all costs” approach. During the course of the play, these two polar opposites form an uneasy bond for the sake of the team and slowly come to appreciate the other’s style. And all the while, the audience is laughing hysterically.

Dresser was inspired to write the play after his experiences with his own son’s Little League. One evening his son announced that his coaches were instituting a new “strategy” for their upcoming playoffs. As a parent, Dresser was appalled to discover it involved cheating, but the playwright in him instantly “saw this as a perfect example of how the desire to win in children’s sports has gone wildly off track.” He also realized that the situation “encapsulated an obsession with achievement at the expense of simply doing what’s right, which seems to permeate our entire culture.” ROUNDING THIRD is a sweet little comedy that brilliantly examines the question of how we want to raise our children. Do we want to protect them from life’s disappointments and realities as long as possible, or does that do them a disservice in the long run by not preparing them for the ups and downs of adulthood? Something with which every parent has wrestled over the years. Dresser also explores what it is to be an American man. Pretty weighty issues for a comedy.

Yet ROUNDING THIRD never loses sight of the funny—and the two actors really bring it. A Brooklyn firefighter when not onstage, Michael Basile embodies the role of Don perfectly. His dry delivery of the character’s sarcastic comebacks to Michael is terrific; his is an affectionate portrayal of this blue-collar guy with a narrow worldview. Act II’s Artistic Director Tony Braithwaite was made to play the nebbish, Michael. A natural comedian, he imbues the role with hilarious neuroticism—and his physicality hits all the right notes.

Matt Silva’s direction is well thought out; clearly, he loves the subject matter, lending great verisimilitude to the production. Simply staged on a sparse but clever set by Adam Riggar, there are no false moments; every characterization and comedic bit is grounded in truth. Lighting by James Leitner and a soundscape by Larry Fowler support the proceedings beautifully, creating great atmosphere and putting each audience member at the ball field. And Jill Keys’ costuming nicely editorializes on each man’s character. Even the scene changes are cleverly executed.

I can highly recommend Act II’s ROUNDING THIRD to all who are looking for an enjoyable time out. You don’t even need to be a sports fan to love this play (I’m not). By all means, head to Ambler and have a blast.

By Richard Dresser
Directed by Matt Silva
September 9—October 12, 2014
Act II Playhouse
56 E. Butler Avenue
Ambler, PA 19002
Info: 215-654-0200



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